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Saturday May 25th, 2024

Trump says Islamic State chief Baghdadi killed in US raid

Firefighters extinguish the flames of a burning truck at the spot where Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, the Islamic State group’s spokesman was reportedly killed in a raid in the northern Syrian village of Ayn al-Bayda near Jarablus on October 27, 2019.

AFP – President Donald Trump on Sunday said that the elusive leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed, dying “like a dog” in a daring nighttime raid by US special forces in northwest Syria.

Trump told the nation in a televised address from the White House that US forces killed a “large number” of Islamic State (IS) group militants during the raid, which culminated with Baghdadi cornered in a tunnel, where he detonated a suicide vest.

“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said, adding that three of Baghdadi’s children were also killed in the blast.

Trump said that the raid — involving eight helicopters flying more than an hour from an undisclosed base — was carried out with cooperation from Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. He also thanked the Syrian Kurds “for a certain support they were able to give us.”

Special forces “executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style,” he said.

Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, described the dramatic message the president and his advisers received as they monitored the raid from the White House Situation Room.

“The commander of the mission called and said, ‘100 percent confidence, Jackpot'” — meaning Baghdadi was dead — O’Brien said on NBC. “That was great news.”

At its height, IS controlled swaths of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared caliphate, brutally imposing a puritanical version of Islam.

The group planned or inspired terrorism attacks across Europe, while using social media to lure foreign volunteers.

It took years of war, during which IS became notorious for mass executions and sickening hostage beheadings, before its final slice of territory in Syria was seized this March.

Baghdadi’s death gives a big political boost to Trump as he faces an impeachment inquiry and after his abrupt decision to withdraw a small deployment of US forces from Syria raised fears that it would allow IS remnants to regroup and leave Kurdish forces vulnerable to a Turkish invasion.

Trump took a storm of criticism for the move, including from his Republican allies. On Sunday, however, they had little but praise.

Several world leaders joined in the approbation, though some added words of caution.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that it was “a turning point in our joint fight against terrorism.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the raid “an important moment in our fight against terror” but cautioned that the fight was “not yet over.”

An Iranian government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, tweeted that Baghdadi’s death was not the end of IS terror “but just the end of a chapter.”

But Russia raised doubts. “The Defense Ministry does not have reliable information… concerning the umpteenth ‘death’ of Baghdadi,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

Baghdadi’s death has been reported several times over the years.

Trump said there was no doubt, however, saying a DNA field test had confirmed his identity.

And Defense Secretary Mark Esper — who issued a statement hailing “a great day for America and a great day for the world” — told CNN the raiding team had both visual and DNA confirmation.

In Washington, Democrats commended the intelligence community, the military professionals and the US partners involved but cautioned that the IS threat was not over, particularly after Trump’s decision — since partially reversed — to leave Syria.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that her chamber be briefed on the raid and on Trump’s broader regional policies, adding that “the Russians, but not top congressional leadership, were notified” in advance.

But Trump seemed to relish delivering the news to the public — after hinting at it in a tweet late Saturday — spending nearly an hour at the podium.

“This is the biggest there is,” he said.

– Scorched vehicle –

A war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, had reported that US helicopters dropped forces in an area of Syria’s Idlib province where “groups linked to the Islamic State group” were present.

The monitoring group, based in Britain but with sources in Syria, said the helicopters targeted a home and a car outside the village of Barisha.

The operation killed nine people, including an IS senior leader called Abu Yamaan, as well as a child and two women, it said.

An AFP correspondent in Barisha said the targeted house was flattened, leaving nothing but gray rubble.

A nearby resident who gave his name as Abdel Hameed said he rushed to the site after hearing a ruckus in the night.

“The home had collapsed,” he said, and there were two bodies in the burned hulk of a car.

An inhabitant of a nearby camp for the displaced said he had heard helicopters and air strikes.

They “were flying very low, causing great panic among the people,” Ahmed Hassawi said by phone.

Though other jihadists operate there, the area is nominally under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The AFP correspondent said the Hayat group had cordoned off the area, and bulldozers were already clearing the rubble.

– ‘Joint intelligence’-

Barisha is in a mountainous area less than three miles (five kilometers) from Turkey and near a main border crossing.

Turkey, which has been waging an offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria and with which the US partnered to combat IS, “knew we were going in,” Trump said.

A senior Turkish official told AFP that “to the best of my knowledge, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi arrived at this location 48 hours prior to the raid.”

The commander-in-chief of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi, said the operation came after “joint intelligence work” with American forces.

Abdi said on Twitter that IS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir was meanwhile “targeted in the village of Ain al-Baydah near Jarablus, in a coordinated operation between SDF intelligence and the US army.”

A top Kurdish official, who declined to be named, said that Muhajir was also killed.

– $25 million reward –

Baghdadi — an Iraqi native believed to be 48 years old — was rarely seen.

After 2014 he disappeared from sight, only surfacing in a video in April with an assault rifle at his side, as he encouraged followers to “take revenge” after the group’s territorial defeat.

His reappearance was seen as a reassertion of his leadership of a group that had spread as far as Asia and Africa and claimed several deadly attacks in Europe.

The US State Department had posted a $25 million reward for information on his whereabouts.

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Sri Lanka power outages from falling trees worsened by unfilled vacancies: CEB union

HEAVY WINDS: Heavy rains and gusting winds have brought down trees on many location in Sri Lanka.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power grid has been hit by 300,000 outages as heavy winds brought down trees, restoring supply has been delayed by unfilled vacancies of breakdown staff, a union statement said.

Despite electricity being declared an essential service, vacancies have not been filled, the CEB Engineers Union said.

“In this already challenging situation, the Acting General Manager of CEB issued a circular on May 21, 2024, abolishing several essential service positions, including the Maintenance Electrical Engineer in the Area Engineer Offices, Construction Units, and Distribution Maintenance Units,” the Union said.

“This decision, made without any scientific basis, significantly reduces our capacity to provide adequate services to the public during this emergency.

“On behalf of all the staff of CEB, we express our deep regret for the inconvenience caused to our valued customers.”

High winds had rains have brought down trees across power lines and transformers, the statement said.

In the past few day over 300,000 power outages have been reported nationwide, with some areas experiencing over 30,000 outages within an hour.

“Our limited technical staff at the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are making extraordinary efforts to restore power as quickly as possible,” the union said.

“We deeply regret that due to the high volume of calls, there are times when we are unable to respond to all customer inquiries.

“We kindly ask consumers to support our restoration teams and to report any fallen live electrical wires or devices to the Electricity Board immediately without attempting to handle them.

The union said there were not enough workers to restore power quickly when such a large volume of breakdowns happens.

“We want to clarify that the additional groups mentioned by the minister have not yet been received by the CEB,” the union said.

“Despite the government’s designation of electricity as an essential service, neither the government, the minister in charge, nor the CEB board of directors have taken adequate steps to fill the relevant vacancies or retain current employees.

“We believe they should be held directly responsible for the delays in addressing the power outages due to the shortage of staff.”

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Melco’s Nuwa hotel to open in Sri Lanka in mid-2025

ECONOMYNEXT – A Nuwa branded hotel run by Melco Resorts and Entertainment linked to their gaming operation in Colombo will open in mid 2025, its Sri Lanka partner John Keells Holdings said.

The group’s integrated resort is being re-branded as a ‘City of Dreams’, a brand of Melco.

The resort will have a 687-room Cinnamon Life hotel and the Nuwa hotel described as “ultra-high end”.

“The 113-key exclusive hotel, situated on the top five floors of the integrated resort, will be managed by Melco under its ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel brand ‘Nuwa’, which has presence in Macau and the Philippines,” JKH told shareholders in the annual report.

“Melco’s ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel and casino, together with its global brand and footprint, will strongly complement the MICE, entertainment, shopping, dining and leisure offerings in the ‘City of Dreams Sri Lanka’ integrated resort, establishing it as a one-of-a-kind destination in South Asia and the region.”

Melco is investing 125 million dollars in fitting out its casino.

“The collaboration with Melco, including access to the technical, marketing, branding and loyalty programmes, expertise and governance structures, will be a boost for not only the integrated resort of the Group but a strong show of confidence in the tourism potential of the country,” JKH said.

The Cinnamon Life hotel has already started marketing.

Related Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Life begins marketing, accepts bookings

(Colombo/May25/2024)

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Sri Lanka to find investors by ‘competitive system’ after revoking plantations privatizations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will revoke the privatization of plantation companies that do not pay government dictated wages, by cancelling land leases and find new investors under a ‘competitive system’, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said.

Sri Lanka privatized the ownership of 22 plantations companies in the 1990s through long term leases after initially giving only management to private firms.

Management companies that made profits (mostly those with more rubber) were given the firms under a valuation and those that made losses (mostly ones with more tea) were sold on the stock market.

The privatized firms then made annual lease payments and paid taxes when profits were made.

In 2024 the government decreed a wage hike announced a mandated wage after President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement in the presence of several politicians representing plantations workers.

The land leases of privatized plantations, which do not pay the mandated wages would be cancelled, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at a ceremony in Deraniyagala.

The re-expropriated plantations would be given to new investors through “special transparency”

The new ‘privatization’ will be done in a ‘competitive process’ taking into account export orientation, worker welfare, infrastructure, new technology, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

It is not clear whether paying government-dictated wages was a clause in the privatization agreement.

Then President J R Jayewardene put constitutional guarantee against expropriation as the original nationalization of foreign and domestic owned companies were blamed for Sri Lanka becoming a backward nation after getting independence with indicators ‘only behind Japan’ according to many commentators.

However, in 2011 a series of companies were expropriation without recourse to judicial review, again delivering a blow to the country’s investment framework.

Ironically plantations that were privatized in the 1990s were in the original wave of nationalizations.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the cabinet approval had been given to set up a committee to examine wage and cancel the leases of plantations that were unable to pay the dictated wages.

Related

Sri Lanka state interference in plantation wages escalates into land grab threat

From the time the firms were privatized unions and the companies had bargained through collective agreements, striking in some cases as macro-economists printed money and triggered high inflation.

Under President Gotabaya, mandating wages through gazettes began in January 2020, and the wage bargaining process was put aside.

Sri Lanka’s macro-economists advising President Rajapaksa the printed money and triggered a collapse of the rupee from 184 to 370 to the US dollar from 2020 to 2020 in the course of targeting ‘potential output’ which was taught by the International Monetary Fund.

In 2024, the current central bank governor had allowed the exchange rate to appreciate to 300 to the US dollar, amid deflationary policy, recouping some of the lost wages of plantations workers.

The plantations have not given an official increase to account for what macro-economists did to the unit of account of their wages. With salaries under ‘wages boards’ from the 2020 through gazettes, neither employees not workers have engaged in the traditional wage negotiations.

The threat to re-exproriate plantations is coming as the government is trying to privatize several state enterprises, including SriLankan Airlines.

It is not clear now the impending reversal of plantations privatization will affect the prices of bids by investors for upcoming privatizations.

The firms were privatized to stop monthly transfers from the Treasury to pay salaries under state ownership. (Colombo/May25/2024)

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